Country info and advice - Japan
The following comments are from teachers who have worked, or are currently working, in Japan. If you are a teacher and have some advice about Japan, please share here.
Hi, I worked as an EFL Instructor in Japan for three years. I would definitely recommend Japan as a
place to work as the pay is good and you can pick up lots of private work if you
want extra on top of a full time job. I worked for NOVA, a big EFL company, and
I found them to be pretty fair employers. A representative meets you at the
airport and then another member of staff will take you to your accommodation.
NOVA accommodation is a little pricey but after a couple of months you may find
other teachers to move in with at a cheaper rate. Try to find accommodation that
has no Key Money (an expensive gift of money to your landlord/lady).
At the orientation meeting you attend, advice is given on banking, mobile phones, teaching, and living in Japan etc. I would recommend that you do a recce of the place of your orientation a day or so before. This will help you see how long it takes to get there and to familiarize yourself with the route. On the day of your orientation you will feel more at ease and will know how long to allow yourself for the commute etc.
With NOVA, you don't get as much holiday as you would if you were a JET. Yet, you have the flexibility of shift swaps with other members of the teaching staff, which are great for if you want to see Japan, go home for a visit or go to other foreign countries.
Before you leave for Japan try to learn at least a few stock polite phrases. Being polite and respectful is of great importance in Japan. I lived in Kyoto which is beautiful but the locals can be a little aloof, but on visiting Hiroshima I found the people very friendly and welcoming, same with Tokyo.
While you are in Japan try to visit Kyoto during the different Festival times, such as the Gion Festival, Kurama's Fire Festival or Obon. Great bars to go to in Kyoto are Abar, Bar ING and Bar Africa. Also there are lots of great foods to try as well as sushi. There is Okinumiyaki, blow fish, Suki Yaki and tonkatsu. But there are also strange toppings on pizza, such as green salads and potatoes and mayo!
Take lots of photos and don't forget to try the Karaoke boxes with your mates, even if you can't sing, the cheesey videos that accompany the songs are classic viewing and are usually completely unrelated to the songs. Enjoy!
Marie on 27 November 2005
After 8 years of living and working in Japan, I have been asked to give advice to many people interested in
coming here. However, the most important bit of advice that I would like to pass
on is that regardless of the country you are visiting, you will be seen as a
representative of your home country. In fact, the image that locals have of you
will in some cases, be the image that they have of the country you are from.
Japan is a country filled with beautiful sights, wonderful people and fantastic
opportunities. Many foreigners who come here do a great job of representing
their country, however there are more than a few who come here simply to party,
and to take advantage of the kindness that is shown to them by their Japanese
hosts. When they leave they damage not only their own reputations but also those
of their respective countries and their fellow countrymen that follow. When you
come to Japan, take some time to learn the basics. Learn to speak the language!
If you are teaching, prepare your lessons carefully! Express gratitude for the
kindnesses you receive! Although paid lessons can be very lucrative, volunteer
your time once a week at a local community centre to help out those who may be
interested in English but not able to make it to a private school. Take part in
local festivals. Most of all, remember that you are a guest in a foreign
country... remember your manners. Embrace living abroad and use your time wisely
to enrich your knowledge of your target culture and language.
Chris on 24 April 2006
I worked in Yokohama, Fujisawa, Tokyo and Otaru during two 1-year contracts teaching English. My
students included all age groups and vocations. Some were houswives, others were
bankers or engineers. This was mostly with NOVA, in addition to some private
contracts with companies whose employees needed teachers. If the Yen hadn't
devalued so consistently over that time, I would have remained at least another
year. You couldn't ask for better students, though good teachers must have great
patience and empathy with students as they tend to be rather reserved/shy.
Afraid of losing face by making errors, they'd rather remain silent, which can
annoy some teachers who want to move on through the lesson. If this kind of
learning process bothers you, try Korea or China, where learners are more
willing to take risks. I have to say they are some of the nicest people in the
world, and I've been in international environments for almost 20 years. NOVA
just went bankrupt, leaving many teachers, students and staff in the lurch.
However there are many other schools. Just know what you are agreeing to do.
I've known teachers whose varied class schedules sent them scurrying about by
subway, train and bus between lessons located in various parts of the city. You
end up wasting time in transport, and it wears you down. Better to have students
come to your school so you can prepare and have materials and your space at hand.
Franklin on 27 December 2007
Hi, I worked in North Tokyo for 1 year. Japan is very expensive and if you live on your own you will spend
around 50% of your wages on accommodation. The trains in Tokyo stop at around
12.30 so if you live outside of central Tokyo going out at night is difficult
because most of the nightclubs and sports bars are in central Tokyo. Many
private schools send teachers to different schools every day so you will spend a
lot of time on trains. I spent 3-4 hours a day traveling. It's best to work for
a small school that recruits from within Japan or take a few part-time jobs. I
left my house at around 10.30 everyday and got home at around 10.30-11.30pm so
my life was all work. I wish I had a 9-5 contract with two days of together
instead of split days then I could of seen more of Japan. At the moment wages
are starting to fall because many schools have financial problems due to the economic downturn.
Peter on 27 April 2009
Hi, I worked in Japan for a year in 2010. I would not recommend working for a private English school in
Japan. You will work long hours and horrible shifts. These schools are not
interested in teaching English or looking after their staff. I worked for a very
large chain of schools. I never had a lesson observed or had any training. Also
the books I was told to follow were poor. Also the timetable made it impossible
to plan lessons. I often had 4 class back to back with no break between. It is
part of Japanese culture to work all the time. I wish I had just gone on holiday
to Japan because all I did was work and get over charged for accommodation,
heath care and was exploited. Japan is a very safe clean country and the people
are very friendly but the working conditions for an English Teacher are very bad.
Tomas on 7 February 2011
Hi. I have been working in Japan for 3 years. I am with Tomas.
Japan is not like China or Korea. You can still work 20 or 25 hours a week in those countries and get paid relativlly well. This is not the case in Japan. Most private schools expect you to work 38 to 40 hours a week for about $2200 dollars a month.
The only real and best option is to work for yourself. You will get paid a lot better doing that but you have to use the goverment health insurance which is very expensive. You will have to be very flexible. It is not uncommon for Japanese people to cancel 5 minutes before a class or even once you have arrived at their houses. I have driven 45 minutes, to a class, only to have the student tell me sorry I am busy we cant have class today. I have gone to another class, called the student and then she told me sorry I decided to quit. I have also come to relize Japanese people are not very puntual. It is very common for them to be late.
On a good note though, Japan is a very beautiful place and very very safe. That is why I love it here. Houses are also very cheap to buy here. If my wife was not Japanese and did not want to live in Japan I would be in Bali or Chang Mai teaching English. Japan is not a good place to be teaching English these days. My general concensus is they are not interested in learning English. If you have a second option go there. Do not come to Japan to teach. It is probably the place for you if you like working for low pay and bad conditions.
Anonymous on 3 April 2011
These posts all concern privately-run, for-profit, English language schools (eikaiwa). I came over last
year to work through the JET Program as an ALT. Probably the best gig on the planet. Check it out. Good luck with applying!
Anonymous on 25 April 2011
I agree with Tomas and Anonymous (except the part about how cheap a house is as it is far more
expensive than most places). My take is unless you LOVE Japan it's no place for
an English teacher. Hours are longer, you will work weekends at some places and
it feels like most are not serious about English here. If anything you are
giving them a taste of English. Some schools have their own tests and of course
pass the kid so the parent keeps paying the fee for the class. I've been here 3
years and have a better job now but still plan to move on when my contract is
up. I enjoy the safety and cleanliness of Japan and efficiency here. Like I said
unless you LOVE Japan there are far better places to teach.
JR on 22 May 2011
I agree with Anon... there are options besides working for private language schools, such as JET, Joytalk, or
my own employer, Interac. As an ALT you work 8-4.15pm or so on weekdays, with
weekends and evenings free. Some companies allow you to teach private lessons in
your own time, which can be a fantastic supplement to your income. If you don't
eat out or drink much and do a few private lessons, you could save up to
100,000JPY ($1000 or so) a month!! It can be done, I've seen people do it.
Japanese students can be very shy, but don't let this be a generalisation. Some can be very confident, funny and witty. If you teach children, they can surprise you with their originality. I teach children and adults and I have met some very interesting people, along with all the adults who will mostly just talk about food all the time.. The level of English here isn't amazing, but again, it depends on where you are. I'm in Hamamatsu, a very "international" city as Japan goes, and so the level of English is probably higher here than your average area.
Life as an ALT is good. It stands for Assistant Language Teacher, so you will never be in charge of a class on your own. You might be nothing more than a model native speaker, reading out words while the "main" teacher teaches, which can be pretty boring. They might ask you to create games and activities, but at least they will be on hand to explain the rules in Japanese. You might only have two 50-minute classes per day, which can be boring, but it gives you time to study Japanese or browse the net!
I could explain a lot, but have a look at my blog: http://gwynniegoesjapan.blogspot.com - I have an FAQ about teaching and living in Japan!
Gwynnie on 26 May 2011
I worked at a private school (eikaiwa) for 2 years in Northern Japan. Some people here have said working as
an English teacher in Japan is horrible due to long working hours. You sign a
contract that states your working hours, so you should know what you are
committing to! My school was great, working hours were fair, pay was great, and
I was even provided with a company car which I could drive whenever I wanted. I
made enough money to travel all over Asia and South East Asia. I also had enough
vacation time to do this. Look for decent contracts and be kind to your employer
and they will likely be kind to you in return. Living and Teaching in Japan was a phenomenal experience!
Lisa on 15 December 2011
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